India: Search Habits of a Growing Nation

By Siddharth Jhunjhunwala

Keeping pace with global trends in search marketing, India is a major user of search as well. According to recent studies, India has 81 million Internet users that equates to an Internet penetration rate of 6.9 percent. May not sound like much in percentile terms but is nonetheless impressive due to the quality of the online population.

In an Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) study in 2008, 73 percent of Internet users in India were found to use online search services, just behind email (93 percent). The use of online search in India moved up considerably, as compared to only 35 percent online Internet users using search in 2004. Cut to later half of 2008, and the online search numbers stand at 75 percent.

What Is India Searching For?

Marketers looking to leverage India’s search habits would find it useful to learn that the nation’s top favorite search criterion is education (47 percent), according to the IMAI survey. Furthermore, The Times of India reported there were 48 million MBA related queries out of a total of 1 billion education-related Google searches in 2009 alone!

After education-related searches, the IMAI study found the most popular categories were: entertainment (21 percent), finance (20 percent), products for purchase (9 percent) and travel and ticketing related matters at 8 percent. These categories continue to dominate search patterns even today.

Google was the most used search engine. A comScore report from 2009 shows Google sites accounted for 88.4 percent of all searches conducted.

According to The Times of India report, the use of Google primary web search service was shown to have increased by 70 percent between 2008 and 2009. Searches related to the financial sector have grown by 73 percent in the same period of which net banking is at the top.

In the travel and tourism sector, searches related to honeymoon packages are at the top. Additionally, automotive and telecom are the fastest growing verticals in terms of search volumes on Google.

Do We Talk About China in the Same Breath?

Yes and no. Internet usage, liberal policies, and a large English speaking population will ensure that India takes the lead in this race.

The Mobile Revolution

Though Internet penetration is not high, Indians are adapting to search via mobile phones in a big way. With more than 650 mobile devices versus 51 million computers (considering users using a desktop PC or a portable computer as the sole or primary device to access the Internet), the increase in search via mobile is mind-boggling.

Amit Singhal, head of Google’s search quality team, mentions that search from mobiles have increase five-fold in the past two years and Google’s Transcoder that enables faster page uploads on mobile devices has been a big help in growing these numbers.

Voice-based search is already being talked about actively and is likely to debut soon in India. ‘Intelligent search’ is also a concept being pioneered by Singhal at the research and development center in the United States.

India Wide Open

So what do these numbers truly mean? Does it mean that the economy is geared for more action from India? Definitely. Consumers in India are rapidly changing the way they access the Internet. With a generation that might give the PC a miss altogether, India is also giving search giants a lot to think about.

Here’s what the future looks like for search in India:

  • More services catering to vernacular (local language) search likely to appear in the near future.
  • Search marketing will gain significant prominence with Indian businesses, making them have a go at it.
  • The search marketing industry is also likely to see a spurt of growth and the IT industry will see a minor shift with services that will include digital marketing.
  • Intelligent search and mobile-based search features will be enhanced to cater to the Indian populace.


  • Low Internet penetration still brings a frown on most analysts’ faces.
  • 3G access is eagerly awaited for the boom in search. This is both an opportunity and challenge.
  • Though largely English speaking, many users would like vernacular (local language) search as well.

India is definitely on the radar of all search majors and with good reason to be.

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